Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Once Upon a Time Lasts Forever

"Joyous Space" by Orin Optiglot

“‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.” -Philip Pullman
(1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech)

Even though school has been in session now for more than 5 months, some of our youngest students are still finding it difficult to settle down in one spot and focus on a story. The colorful cushions we purchased to carve out a dedicated area for reading time have not been an unqualified success. There are moments when I feel like I'm trying to manage a wiggling tangle of puppies!

Yesterday, I decided to share with my younger grades a beautifully illustrated version of a classic fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For contrast, I grabbed a shabby old copy by another author. The pictures in the second book were clumsy, at best, but they clearly showed all the basic elements of the story: characters, setting, plot, etc.

For all the glory of the new book, the students were most captivated by the older version, not because of any virtues of the volume itself, but because I used different voices and gestures to "tell" rather than "read" the story. Some of the children obviously had heard the tale before, but not all of them. They didn't care that my narrative had a few bumpy spots: for the length of that re-telling, the entire class was engaged, quiet, and as good as gold.

What lessons did I learn from my totally unanticipated success?
  • determine what your audience responds to and utilize it
  • don't assume that "new and improved" is necessarily better
  • children haven't changed and storytelling as an art retains its magic
  • step back from technology for a bit and remember the power of traditional "tools"
I'll be dusting off my flannelboard and browsing our collection for old favorites. The little ones have taught me well.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” -Eudora Welty


Anonymous said...

This is the 3rd post I've read today which has touched on some aspect or other about returning to older technologies! I wonder what this synchronicity is trying to tell me ;-)
It is so true, though, that children respond wonderfully well to storytelling - an ancient art far removed from from the technological whirlwind we become encompassed in as adults. Those captivated little faces are a fabulous reminder aren't they?

diane said...


Sometimes the students who are the most challenging are also the ones who provide the greatest satisfaction.

No matter how rowdy library time is, the hugs and smiles when I meet them in the hallway make it all worthwhile.


lbilak said...

Nothing beats the joy of hearing a story being spun well. Their faces must have reflected the joy they were feeling. I think the occasional visuals and the voice combine in just the right way so that there is still room for a child's imagination. Bravo!
I loved this post.

diane said...


I have to remind myself periodically that what is old hat to me is very new and exciting to some of our students.

Wait until we get to Little Red Riding Hood and my childhood favorite, The Little Red Hen!

Ann Oro said...


There is NOTHING like having a story read with great expression. Adding the flannel board is sure to be a success. I made one for my sons when they were little and brought the pieces into school when they outgrew it.


diane said...


I used a beautifully done set of pre-made Little Red Riding Hood flannel board pieces today and the kids were enthralled.

Then I read "I Went Walking" and had them re-tell the story using some of my homemade pieces and they were just as focused.

It's the act of telling the story that engages the students. Letting them actually place the figures on the board is an exciting, highly coveted bonus.

Next time, Goldilocks (pre-made) and perhaps another Diane-made encore.

I'll bring my camera and give you a peek!